Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM) has received US$ 10 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to continue their breakthrough drug discovery and development research against human filariasis - parasitic worm infections which cause river blindness and elephantiasis, some of the world’s most debilitating diseases affecting up to 150 million people in 83 countries throughout the tropics.
The funding will allow the global Anti-Wolbachia Consortium (A·WOL) to build on their pioneering research already established by the A·WOL programme led by Professor Mark Taylor at LSTM, thanks to an earlier grant of US$ 23 million from the Gates Foundation in 2007. The new three year funding period will be allocated to two projects running in parallel - one project to focus on macrofilaricidal drug discovery and a second project aiming to optimise and develop existing drugs.
Director of the A·WOL Project, Professor Mark Taylor, said: “These grants allow us to take the new drugs we have discovered over the past 5 years to the next step. We have a portfolio of hundreds of new drugs, which we need to narrow down to the best clinical candidate. We have also found that combinations of existing drugs can work to reduce the period of treatment from weeks to days. The challenge now is to progress these drugs as quickly and efficiently as possible to be able to deliver safe curative therapies to the millions that suffer from these disabling diseases”
The A·WOL approach has already been adopted by the Onchocerciasis Control Programme for the Americas (OEPA) to shorten the period to elimination in parts of Venezuela, which are remote and difficult to access.
A·WOL targets the symbiotic Wolbachia bacteria of lymphatic filariasis (elephantiasis) and onchocerciasis (river blindness); diseases which cause disfigurement, disability and blindness.
Professor Taylor and his laboratory have previously discovered that removing Wolbachia from worms using simple antibiotic treatments cause worm populations to die and can even reverse the effects of filarial disease.
The A·WOL Consortium has already undertaken extensive field trials in Ghana and Cameroon where more than 20,000 people have already benefitted from anti-Wolbachia treatments.
Commenting on the latest grant, deputy director of LSTM, Professor Steve Ward, said:
“Receiving this amount of funding is a huge vote of confidence in the high quality research that our team at LSTM and our partners in the A·WOL Consortium have conducted over the past five years. That will hopefully lead to a more effective drug discovery programme to treat these debilitating neglected tropical diseases.”
LSTM is a world leader in tackling parasitic diseases such as malaria, filariasis and other NTDs.